Healthier Lives experts defend dietary guidelines

29 August 2016

Vegetable market stall

New Zealand nutrition experts are calling for an end to the pitting of carbohydrates against fats and say we should instead focus on what is most important—the quality of food in our diets.

Current nutrition guidelines have been criticised by some who claim that carbs should be restricted in diets rather than fats.

A commentary on dietary guidelines published today in the prestigious medical UK journal, The Lancet, includes leading nutrition and public health researchers from the Healthier Lives National Science Challenge, University of Otago’s Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research, and the University of Auckland.

Healthier Lives Director, Professor Jim Mann and colleagues: Cliona Ni Mhurchu, Rod Jackson and Lisa Te Morenga contributed to the commentary.

Professor Mann says “dietary guidelines produced by expert panels around the world are largely consistent in advising that the quality of fats and carbohydrates we eat is more important than the proportion of fat versus carbohydrate that we consume.

“There are good fats, just as there are good carbohydrates that are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer.

“Pitting one nutrient against another—such as fat versus carbs—risks confusing the public, health professionals and policy makers, and undermines confidence in evidence-based nutrition advice.”

The researchers have defended dietary guidelines, saying that they are based on the “totality of international evidence” from objective, systematic and thorough expert reviews of a range of different types of studies, which evaluate the effects of foods and nutrients on health outcomes.

Professor Mann says a clear recommendation from studies undertaken in New Zealand and internationally, is that we should be aiming for substantial reductions in our intakes of free sugars and saturated fats. But there are a wide range of healthy fats and carbohydrates that are associated with a reduced risk of disease.

“What’s more these recommendations can be easily met by culturally diverse dietary patterns; from the traditional high carbohydrate, low-fat diet of Japan, which is associated with the greatest longevity, to relatively high fat high carbohydrate Mediterranean diets which are associated with low risk of non-communicable diseases.

“What dietary patterns associated with the lowest risk of non-communicable diseases all have in common is that they tend to include lots of fibre-rich fruit and vegetables, legumes, pulses, nuts, wholegrains, and plant oils.”

Read the Lancet commentary:

Dietary guidelines on trial: the changes are not evidence based

Read the story in the Otago Daily Times:

Fads, fats and carbohydrates

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